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Greg Kirk: Coming to a close

ATLANTA — The 2016 legislative session is headed towards its final week. With days 36, 37 and 38 completed this week, there are only two more days for voting on the Senate floor. We will be in session on Tuesday for day 39 and conclude the 40-day session on Thursday. In order to have a chance at becoming law, a bill must have passed the House and Senate in the exact same form before midnight on day 40.
This week, the General Assembly took a big step making a bold statement to the religious community of our state. House Bill 757, which includes language from the Pastor Protection Act, the First Amendment Defense Act and the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, passed both chambers. This bill also includes language requiring a public employee to complete the duties and responsibilities of their position and language that prohibits discrimination. The bill is now available for the governor to sign protections for people with deeply held religious beliefs into law.
The deliberate path taken by the General Assembly to secure religious freedom legislation proved trying at times. With great patience and determined leadership, the compromise between the House and Senate produced a bill that is good for our state, our religious community and all of our citizens.
As the author of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), I was very involved in the negotiations that produced the final version of House Bill 757. Despite some commentary claiming the bill is discriminatory, it was designed in a fair and balanced way so that the rights of all Georgians would be protected. Many Georgians still hold the traditional belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. In their tolerance, a good portion of them accept that our country now recognizes same-sex marriage. However, someone who holds a personal belief regarding marriage should not be subjected to any negative actions solely based on their beliefs about marriage. FADA is all about protecting a citizen from the government’s ability to punish or penalize someone for their beliefs.
To improve the quality of life of Georgia’s disabled community, we passed House Bill 768 unanimously. Known as the “ABLE Act,” the bill creates a tax-exempt savings account for Georgians with significant disabilities. The funds can be used to pay for important higher-cost qualified disability benefits, such as medical care, education, employment training, assistive technology, housing and transportation. ABLE Act accounts will function similarly to the 529 college savings account. Georgia’s ABLE act will work in tandem with the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act.
Unfortunately, a startlingly dangerous profession is emergency healthcare. A 2014 study published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 70 percent of all non-fatal workplace assaults were experienced by healthcare workers. To make life safer for our doctors, nurses and EMTs, House Bill 979 increases the criminal penalties for aggravated assault against a health care worker.
The Senate also passed the Tax Relief Act of 2016 this week. House Bill 238 proposes a 5.4 percent flat income tax for taxable income. It also raises the deduction cap to $25,000. Because of low taxes and a deliberate effort to grow business in our state, Georgia’s economy is in a very healthy position. This flat tax would help our small business owners, job creators and other hard working Georgians keep more of their money to spend it how it best suits them.
The Senate took a common sense step to help financially protect our military service men and women who are returning home from deployment. House Bill 991 forgives a citizen ad valorem penalties, fees or interest accrued while the citizen was on military service in a combat zone. The outstanding ad valorem tax bill must be paid within 60 days of returning from service. Our returning military have enough on their plate when they return from service. Penalties, fees and interest for their property taxes are something the state can peel back.
Another important measure the Senate took action on was House Bill 555. It requires an annual report of abortions granted or denied in our state without parental consent. Obviously, Georgia is a strong pro-life state. The General Assembly is working hard to protect the sanctity of life. In order to make the best possible decisions for the future of our state, the most accurate information is a necessary.
As the session comes to a close, there is still plenty of work to do. It remains my honor and privilege to represent Georgia’s 13th Senate District at the Capitol. If I can be of service to you, please contact me.

Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, represents the 13th Senate District which includes Crisp, Dodge, Dooly, Lee, Tift, Turner, and Worth counties and portions of Sumter and Wilcox counties. He can be reached by phone at 404-463-5258 or email at greg.kirk@senate.ga.gov